Becoming a Clinical Nurse Specialist


A clinical nurse specialist is an advanced registered nurse (R.N.) who has a master’s degree and/or a doctorate (PhD) in the area of clinical nursing.  As a clinical nurse specialist, you will be considered a “nursing expert” that has been trained in research-based and/or theory-based nursing.

Some of your responsibilities may include: assessing and diagnosing medical conditions and/or injuries, creating tailor-made treatment plans for patients, and/or educating patients and their families on self-care and/or the prevention of a specific disease, injury and/or illness.

You more than likely have an area (specialty) that you focus on. Some specialties may include: geriatrics, oncology, pediatrics, critical care, wound care, psychiatry, women’s health, emergency medicine, diabetes, cardiology, and pain management.

Educational Requirements

You will first need to graduate from high school and obtain a bachelor of science (B.S.) in nursing. Make sure that you enroll in pediatrics, mathematics, English composition, adult health, ethics, geriatrics, statistics, sociology, psychology and chemistry, microbiology, management, anatomy, nutrition and developmental psychology. It is important to note that most nursing schools require that you have at least one year of prior nursing experience before entering a graduate school program.

Once you have obtained your bachelor degree in nursing, you will need to enroll in a graduate clinical nursing program. You will need a master’s degree or doctorate (PhD) in nursing to practice as a clinical nurse specialist. While in your mater’s nursing program, you will be required to take courses in oncology, diabetes, psychological health and/or psychiatry and obstetrics. Your program may consist of a combination of coursework, specialized nursing practicums and supervised clinical nursing rotations. This program may take between 2 and 5 years to complete.

In addition, you will need to complete approximately 1000 clinical hours as a registered nurse (R.N.) in a specialized area. This clinical internship must occur at an approved hospital, clinical or skilled nursing facility. Moreover, you must complete the internship within 3 years.


Once you have successfully fulfilled all of your educational requirements, you may be eligible for licensure in nursing. The licensure exam is administered by the National Council for Licensure Examination. Once you have passed the exam, you will be classified as a licensed clinical specialist nurse.


Now that you have successfully completed your graduate nursing program, you next step is to seek certification. Certification consists of passing a computer-based examination in the area of clinical nursing. Once you have passed the certification exam, the American Nurses Credentialing Center or a similar organization will classify you as a clinical nurse specialist. You will need to be recertified every 5 years.

Job Duties

As a clinical nurse specialist, you may be required to perform the following tasks:

  • Evaluating, diagnosing and treating various illnesses and injuries (within your specialty area)
  • Prescribing medications
  • Training other nurses and medical staff
  • Monitoring and reporting patient results
  • Advising management on potential corrections or improvements in office processes and/or patient care
  • Providing direct care to patients
  • Educating patients and their families on treatment options
  • Conducting research in your specialty area
  • Administering basic wellness assessments, gynecological and/or psychological exams
  • Supervising other nurses and/or managing a clinic and/or health facility.

Salary Prospects

You will more than likely work at a hospital, clinic, private physician’s office and/or a skilled nursing facility (nursing home). According to (2013), you can expect to earn approximately $70,000 per year, as a clinical nurse specialist. Your salary will largely depend on your education, prior experience, location and industry. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013), you can expect to earn approximately $65,000 per year working as a clinical nurse specialist.  If you fall in the lower 10%, you can expect to make approximately $44,000 per year if you fall in the upper 10%, you can expect to make $95,000 or more per year (

Although you may have to work evenings, nights, weekends, holidays, and over time, you may benefit from child care, flexible scheduling, educational benefits, and/or raises and bonuses. In some cases, you may be required to be on call, which means that you will need to be available for work even on your days off. If you work at a doctor’s office or educational institution, you will have more than likely work regular business hours. Approximately 20% clinical nurse specialists worked part-time (

Job Outlook

Employment opportunities for clinical nurse specialist are positive, overall.  Many employers have a difficult time recruiting and maintain clinical nurse specialist, which leads to multiple job openings, especially if you live in certain parts of the United States. To recruit you, employers may offer you sign-on bonuses, flexible work schedules, advanced training and/or child care services.

In addition, the more education you have (PhD), the more job opportunities you will have. Competition will be the greatest for doctor’s office jobs and outpatient care facility because of the regular working hours and comfortable environment.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013), clinical nurse specialist job opportunities are expected to increase 26% by 2020.  This increase will stem from advancements in technology that allow for more medical professionals to treat injuries and illnesses, an significant focus on preventive care and the need for more medical care services as people age.

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